In a normal year, the transition from high school to college is anything but easy. Amidst a global pandemic and distance learning, previous challenges are exacerbated, and new problems are constantly arising. The college process comes with an additional layer of uncertainty, and students are expected to navigate the application process and the wider chaos of the world simultaneously. Students are already facing Zoom fatigue and loss of academic motivation, two detrimental factors on the road to college readiness. To combat these issues, we need to recognize what students are going through and provide space for them to talk about their experiences, with peers, teachers, and counselors.
Crucial skills for college readiness, like time management, organization, and note-taking, have fallen to the wayside during the pandemic and procrastination has become the norm. In May of 2020, an online survey of US high school seniors conducted by McKinsey & Company indicated that COVID-19 had a significant impact on emotional and mental preparedness of over 40 percent of students.
Unfortunately, this problem doesn’t have a simple solution. Declining mental health and social wellness are responsible for these habits, and those issues should be addressed first. During this time, it is most important that we put students first and support them on their journeys — whether that be to college or not. Creating stability and certainty within schedules and providing students with opportunities to be independent in the classroom helps students to maintain mental health and develop college-readiness skills.
The typical “college-oriented atmosphere” at Berkeley High School (BHS) is nearly impossible to replicate on Zoom. College feels far off and uncertain in the minds of juniors who are currently preparing for the application process. Small shifts, such as the inaccessibility of college visits, make huge differences on emotional preparation for college. In a typical year, juniors gain insight into the college process through the experiences of seniors, but the pandemic has limited these interactions. Club leaders, teachers, and students themselves need to reach out and create spaces for these interactions. If a sports team dedicated one practice for juniors to ask seniors about their experiences applying to college, it would have a huge impact on college preparation.
Students who are at financial risk or are without strong support systems at home face additional challenges. The pandemic has tightened budgets and pushed students into positions of caregivers and breadwinners, which has ramifications on college accessibility and preparedness. According to a study by Junior Achievement and Citizens Bank, COVID-19 has pushed over 25 percent of juniors and seniors to work to earn money, and has affected nearly half of their plans to pay for college. Teachers need to recognize the individual struggles that these students are facing. Not all students feel comfortable reaching out, so teachers must create the space for them to share. If students are falling behind academically, the first thing to do is be open and flexible — not harsh and punitive.
We must acknowledge the loss that the pandemic has brought and encourage people to be cognizant of the issues that might arise. The upcoming years will be nowhere near normal, but with strong support systems and a deep understanding of individual and group issues, we can ensure college preparedness and success.